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The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)

af Wilhelm Reich

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662534,950 (3.83)7
I. Ideology as a material force -- The cleavage -- Economic and ideological structure of the German society, 1928-1933 -- How mass psychology sees the problem -- The social function of sexual repression -- II. The authoritarian ideology of the family in the mass psychology of fascism -- Führer and mass structure -- Hitler's background -- On the mass psychology of the lower middle class -- Family ties and nationalistic feelings -- Nationalistic self-confidence -- The "domestication" of the industrial workers -- III. The race theory -- Its contents -- The objective and subjective functions of ideology -- Racial purity, blood poisoning, and mysticism -- IV. The symbolism of the swastika -- V. The sex-economic presuppositions of the authoritarian family -- VI. Organized mysticism as an international anti-sexual organization -- The interest in the church -- The fight against "cultural Bolshevism" -- The appeal to mystical feelings -- The goal of the cultural revolution in the light of fascist reaction -- VII. Sex-economy in the fight against mysticism -- The three basic elements of religious feeling -- Anchoring of religion by means of sexual anxiety -- Healthy and neurotic self-confidence -- VIII. Some questions of sex-political practice -- Theory and practice -- The struggle against mysticism until now -- Sexual happiness contra mysticism -- The individual uprootment of the religious feeling -- The practice of sex-economy and objections to it -- The nonpolitical man -- IX. The masses and the state -- 1936: Speak the truth -- but how & when? -- "What takes place in the masses of people?" -- The "socialist yearning" -- The "withering away of the state" -- The program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Eighth Party Congress, 1919) -- The "introduction of Soviet democracy" -- The development of the apparatus of the authoritarian state from rational social relationships -- The social function of state capitalism -- X. Biosocial function of work -- The problem of "voluntary work discipline" -- XI. Give responsibility to vitally necessary work! -- What is "work-democracy"? -- What is new in work-democracy? -- XII. The biologic miscalculation in the human struggle for freedom -- Our interest in the development of freedom -- Biologic rigidity, incapacity for freedom, and mechanical authoritarian view of life -- The arsenal of human freedom -- XIII. On natural work-democracy -- Investigation of the natural social forces for the purpose of overcoming the emotional plague -- Work in contrast to politics -- Notes on objective criticism and irrational caviling -- Work is inherently rational -- Vitally necessary and other work. 650 0.… (mere)
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(This is an old review that I wrote in 2002 and thought that I had copied here, but hadn't. I haven't read Reich since then so I'm not sure what I would think now.)

As you may know, Reich was a student of Freud who's now known as a colorful crackpot (or, in California, a genius) who believed sexual life-energy could cure cancer, change the weather, etc. He was also a crusading anti-fascist and anti-Stalinist, and he thought dangerous politics were a side effect of unconscious contradictions in society; this book makes a pretty good case for that. But it's also disorganized, repetitive, and self-righteous, and in general it gives the impression of someone who found it very easy to convince himself he had "proved" things. I think this is partly due to the way he went back and revised the book in the '40s (I've never read the original edition) to get rid of some Communist bits and put in more orgone theory; this results in some strange choices such as always saying "sex-economic" when he means "revolutionary." And I'm not sure I trust his retrospective view of the progressive movement in Germany, when he claims that he managed to turn an audience of 1,000 lower-middle-class Christians away from the Church just by explaining that sexual taboos were reactionary. (Of course I may be biased because he believes that not only religion, but fairy tales and detective stories and really anything "irrational," are nothing but fascist bullshit getting in the way of "mental hygiene." For a guy who said he was all about release, he's got pretty strict ideas about where people should find comfort.)

The main theme of the book still seems true: when people grow up cramped and dishonest and afraid of pleasure, they're likely to support horrible leaders without understanding why.

Anyway, besides being an interesting and frustrating read, this was a particularly good used copy to have found, because it came with a whole lot of handwritten margin notes by a mysterious Irish woman who was apparently reading it in Seattle some time in the last 30 years. Besides trying to apply Reich to her surroundings and enthusiastically underlining about 50% of the book, she was also gathering thoughts for a study of an Irish revolutionary about whom she had mixed feelings. There are a lot of pages where this reader's notes are more interesting than Reich's writing, and certainly more practical. Among my favorites: "'Liberalism lays stress upon its ethics for the purpose of holding in suppression the "monster in man"': You can visibly see this in the deadness lack of spontaneity in certain political groups. The unattractiveness rigidity of facial expression." "'Hitler speaks of his mother with great sentimentality': As do most Irish men. But do they love the real person or the myth." "'Employees of aristocratic families ... often appear as caricatures of the people whom they serve': My aunt Louise." "There is no day more empty than the day following an election for the average vol[unteer] worker. What do you have???" "Sadism: 'She doesn't know where she stands w. me. That's the way it should be!'" "To say good-bye to mysticism. I am resistant. Who is it that said 'Walk softly. I have only my dreams?' Does it really do so much damage? ... Beauty of Irene's face at Mass. But it doesn't work for everyone. Didn't for my mom." "'We have to designate as non-work that activity that is detrimental to the life process': Would running a bar be non-work?" Thanks, whoever you are; I hope you figured out what you were trying to figure out. ( )
3 stem elibishop173 | Oct 11, 2021 |
Wilhelm Reich wrote The Mass Psychology of Fascism in 1930-33 and revised and expanded it in 1942. He thus began it in an effort to explain the rise to power of the Nazis and other fascist parties of the interwar period, and developed it with a view to the likely demise of these particular governments and concern about what would succeed them. He also discussed the development of the Soviet system towards authoritarianism and away from its original socialist ideals. When I first read the book in the 1980s, it was fascinating as a piece of firsthand history, but my 2019 reread found me and contemporary society back in the position faced by Reich: the perplexing ascendancy of authoritarian governments throughout the "developed" world.

Reich is not a fan of "great man theories"--how could he be, when confronted with the "failed house painter" at the helm of Nazism? (How can we be, with our failed casino operator?) Nor does he attribute causal primacy to ideology or party programs; "National Socialism" was even more incoherent than the neoliberal capitalism of the Republican party. For Reich, the blame rests squarely with the mass population and their "character structure," formed and reproduced through conditioning in the patriarchal home, the superstitious church, and the exploitative workplace. Such people possess a pervasive fear of freedom which is channeled into authoritarian politics. All other things being equal, then, fascism could be expected to regrow after the defeat of the Axis powers:

"Viewed with respect to man's character, 'fascism' is the basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical conception of life. It is the mechanistic-mystical character of modern man that produces fascist parties, and not vice versa." (xiii, ital. in original)

Reich has an idiosyncratic use of the word translated here as "mysticism." He seems to treat it as a synonym for metaphysical and superstitious thought, and rather than being a neighbor or subset of religion, it serves as a superset embracing various irrationalisms. At some points, though, he expressly defines it as sexual abstinence (140 e.g.). When using it in a more conventional sense, he scare-quotes the term:

"... religion's attitude toward sexuality underwent a change in patriarchal society. Originally, it was a religion of sexuality; later it became an anti-sexual religion. The 'mysticism' of the primitives who were members of a sexually affirmative society is partially direct orgastic experience and partially animistic interpretation of natural processes." (138)
"When sexual feelings and religious feelings became separated from one another, that which is sexual was forced to become the bad, the infernal, the diabolical." (148)

Reich's program for escaping the abiding hazard of totalitarianism is thus not focused on politics but pathology, what he calls the "emotional plague" of sexual self-revulsion that expresses itself in imperial projects of enslavement and war. In his own time, he endorsed and supported a campaign for "sex hygiene" that would affirm and protect the sexuality of children, believing that only a generation raised in this fashion could instigate the real social changes needed to transcend the cycle of internalized and projected hatreds. He found opposition to this effort in all established social factions, of course.

"'Away from the animal; away from sexuality!' are the guiding principles of the formation of all human ideology. This is the case whether it is the communist form of proletarian class honor, the Christian form of man's 'spiritual and ethical nature,' or the liberal form of 'higher human values.' All these ideas harp on the same monotonous tune: 'We are not animals; it was we who discovered the machine--not the animal! And we don't have genitals like the animals!'" (339) When Reich wrote that "Race ideology is the pure biopathic expression of the character structure of the orgastically impotent man" (xiv), he was discussing the racist social theories that "can have meaning only to a numbskull" (78). But the same ideological germ can be seen in mass monoculture farming, antibiotic abuse, and other blunders of our teetering civilization.

Reich's social ideal is one that he insists is already extant in the fabric of everyday life, even though in some respects it seems as utopian as the anticipated socialism of Fourier or communist future of Marx. What Reich calls "work democracy" is the "voluntary association and self-government" that he claims to have been prevalent "in pagan society" (238) and persistent in practical work at the scale of the individual shop. He refuses to reduce it to a political ideology or an economic theory, instead asserting that it is nothing other than the proper organic social expression of humanity through meaningful participation.

"More than anything else it is a matter of changing the nature of work so that it ceases to be an onerous duty and becomes a gratifying fulfillment of a need." (286, i.e. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.")
2 stem paradoxosalpha | Dec 31, 2019 |
Quest'opera, scritta durante gli anni della crisi tedesca, 1930-33, ed in seguito bandita dai nazisti, è un contributo senza eguale alla comprensione di uno dei fenomeni cruciali dei nostri tempi, il fascismo. ( )
  BiblioLorenzoLodi | Nov 10, 2014 |
Besides political, economical and social difficulties for the rise of the Third Reich, the scientist holds the general sexual suppression in proletariat and middle class for a main reason of its triumph. A child who is educated to suppress natural sexuality, to be obedient and to fear authority, later on will be paralyzed in his rebellious forces. Cleverly instrumented by the Nazis, when they came to power. Reich’s book was banned. He fled abroad in the very last moment.
1 stem hbergander | Feb 18, 2014 |
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Il movimento progressista tedesco prima di Hitler si ispirava alla teoria dello stato e della società di Karl Marx: quindi la comprensione del fascismo tedesco deve cominciare dalla comprensione del marxismo.
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I. Ideology as a material force -- The cleavage -- Economic and ideological structure of the German society, 1928-1933 -- How mass psychology sees the problem -- The social function of sexual repression -- II. The authoritarian ideology of the family in the mass psychology of fascism -- Führer and mass structure -- Hitler's background -- On the mass psychology of the lower middle class -- Family ties and nationalistic feelings -- Nationalistic self-confidence -- The "domestication" of the industrial workers -- III. The race theory -- Its contents -- The objective and subjective functions of ideology -- Racial purity, blood poisoning, and mysticism -- IV. The symbolism of the swastika -- V. The sex-economic presuppositions of the authoritarian family -- VI. Organized mysticism as an international anti-sexual organization -- The interest in the church -- The fight against "cultural Bolshevism" -- The appeal to mystical feelings -- The goal of the cultural revolution in the light of fascist reaction -- VII. Sex-economy in the fight against mysticism -- The three basic elements of religious feeling -- Anchoring of religion by means of sexual anxiety -- Healthy and neurotic self-confidence -- VIII. Some questions of sex-political practice -- Theory and practice -- The struggle against mysticism until now -- Sexual happiness contra mysticism -- The individual uprootment of the religious feeling -- The practice of sex-economy and objections to it -- The nonpolitical man -- IX. The masses and the state -- 1936: Speak the truth -- but how & when? -- "What takes place in the masses of people?" -- The "socialist yearning" -- The "withering away of the state" -- The program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Eighth Party Congress, 1919) -- The "introduction of Soviet democracy" -- The development of the apparatus of the authoritarian state from rational social relationships -- The social function of state capitalism -- X. Biosocial function of work -- The problem of "voluntary work discipline" -- XI. Give responsibility to vitally necessary work! -- What is "work-democracy"? -- What is new in work-democracy? -- XII. The biologic miscalculation in the human struggle for freedom -- Our interest in the development of freedom -- Biologic rigidity, incapacity for freedom, and mechanical authoritarian view of life -- The arsenal of human freedom -- XIII. On natural work-democracy -- Investigation of the natural social forces for the purpose of overcoming the emotional plague -- Work in contrast to politics -- Notes on objective criticism and irrational caviling -- Work is inherently rational -- Vitally necessary and other work. 650 0.

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